Good as gold
BOK Financial Corp. President and CEO Stan Lybarger retires this month after 40 years growing Bank of Oklahoma into the nation’s top performing mid-sized bank.
Lybarger and his wife, Marcia, enjoy off-roading in the mountains near their Beaver Creek home.
Jeff Nelson Photography
For 40 years, Stan Lybarger has woken up, put on a suit and gone to work at a bank. He started his career at the National Bank of Tulsa at age 23 — immediately joining the management training program — as one of approximately 400 employees. (The bank became Bank of Oklahoma in 1975 to better reflect its geographic scope.)
But for more than half of his tenure, he has headed to BOK’s C-suite to oversee the No. 1 performing mid-sized bank in the United States. And yet, he’s an unassuming, rather quiet man who hesitates to take credit, even when it’s due. And it is undeniably due.
When Lybarger, now 63, enters a room, he commands attention. It hasn’t always been that way — or maybe it has — but the longtime president and CEO of BOK Financial Corp. is among T-Town’s “Who’s Who” for a reason.
Today BOK employs 4,700 people, positively impacts the education of Oklahoma children and has helped to significantly change the panorama of the downtown skyline. This month Lybarger will retire, handing over the reins of the $27 billion company to Steve Bradshaw.
“It’s fun; it’s a thrill,” Lybarger says about being in a position with such high stakes. “One person doesn’t create a company. In our case, it’s 4,700. We’ve built a great culture of success and teamwork, and that will continue. It won’t stop when I leave.”
Not much keeps Lybarger up at night, he says, because he has great people to worry about things for him. In fact, Lybarger doesn’t stress. He says some of his colleagues have jokingly called him a “carrier,” meaning stress doesn’t affect him though it may be spreading among those around him.
Lybarger, who has lived in Tulsa since 1974, is grounded. But from where do those strong roots originate? For him, it’s family.
The son of two hard-working parents, his father a small business owner in Kansas City, Kan., Lybarger says the best lessons he learned growing up were to be diligent and do the best job he possibly can with everything he touches.
“That’s work advice and home advice, both,” he says. “I used to play a game with every project I got. I would try to always do better than expected with whatever job I was given, even if it was trivial. That could even be mowing the lawn at home.”
Lybarger’s parents placed an emphasis on education, and though neither attended college, they wanted it for their boys. Lybarger and his older brother earned master’s degrees, and education — particularly in public schools — remains a priority for Lybarger.
In 2000, he co-founded the Oklahoma Business and Education Coalition with Luke Corbett, former Kerr-McGee Corp. chairman and CEO, recruiting 16 of the state’s leading companies to support the group’s creation and maintenance for three years. The program promotes rigorous core curriculum standards and student testing and has developed a student record-keeping system to monitor and evaluate progess. Since its founding, OBEC has fought against numerous efforts to dilute education standards and reverse reforms.
Under his leadership, BOK also has supported primary and higher education locally through mentoring, financial education presentations and other activities.
Lybarger credits his upbringing for the man he has become — the man in business and the man at home. In a world of people desperately trying to juggle work and family, he does it well. He and his wife of 39 years, Marcia, have two daughters who live in Dallas and Denver with their families.
“Part of our philosophy was to put as much energy into family and parenting as we did outside of the home,” he says of his and Marcia’s approach to parenting. “The idea is that you put 100 percent into it at work and 100 percent into it when you get home. As a parent, you have to define yourself by the end product, and we have two great children who’ve been successful at work and at home, so we’re really proud of them.”
Where did they get the energy to give a consistent 100 percent? Lybarger says he made a commitment to “turn off” business when he left the office and to “turn on” family, allowing him to give the best both places.
He may be modest about his accomplishments, but one of the thumbprints he will leave on Tulsa that most excites him is the transformation of the city’s core from a desolate business district to a burgeoning destination.
Lybarger was an active supporter of the Vision 2025 package, including the construction of the arena now known as the BOK Center. He was instrumental in selling its sponsorships and suites, and fundraising for its enhancements.
As chairman of the Tulsa Stadium Trust, he recruited the Drillers downtown, developed a strategy to fund their move to ONEOK Field and led the fundraising efforts to make it happen.
“The follow-up development has exceeded all of our expectations,” Lybarger says of both attractions. “It has changed the landscape of Tulsa forever. The sidewalk used to roll up at 5, and today, there are people around all the time. To me, that’s been a tremendous amount of fun and an accomplishment for the community.”
When he retires, Lybarger won’t be leaving the Tulsa business community entirely. He can’t, because it’s in his blood now. While he will remain on the BOK board of directors, he says the company is gaining something when he leaves as president and CEO.
“Every time you have a change, they’ll have new ideas they want to instill in the company,” Lybarger says. “They’ll have a fresh set of eyes — a fresh set of ideas — to bring to the company. Stability is good, but change is equally good.”
Lybarger wants to be remembered for creating an environment in which people can be creative and successful.
“I wanted to create an environment where other people can chase their dreams, too,” he says.
And while others are chasing their dreams, Lybarger is living his. In retirement, he has a few goals, but mostly, he says, he will be playing it by ear.
“I have some deferred travel I want to do — those places that would have been hard to see during a week’s vacation,” he says. “I want to work on my (golf) handicap, and I have already signed on for some serious babysitting duties.” The Lybargers have three grandchildren, ranging in age from 2 months to 2 years old.
Anyone trying to track down Lybarger in the coming years will have to head outside. He plans to spend a lot of time at his home in the Beaver Creek area of Colorado, where he skis, fishes and off-roads. That also is the location of Lybarger’s woodworking shop, where he hopes to continue creating things. In the past, his projects have included interior doors and wooden ink pens.
So, Tulsa won’t forget Lybarger upon his retirement, and it won’t count him out. He is a man of many talents and passions. He is a man who took a small bank in the ’70s and guided it into a major operation. He is a man who made economic development — and Tulsa’s downtown development, in particular — his mission. He is a family man. And he is a man who categorically loves Tulsa.
Stan Lybarger describes his perfect first day of retirement.
√ Wake up early. You have to pack a lot into the perfect day.
√ Start with a really good cup of coffee.
√ Get some exercise.
√ Go outdoors. Could be golf, fly-fishing, a hike, taking the Jeep into the mountains. (On my perfect day the sun is shining, and the temperature is 70 degrees all day long.
√ But if the weather is bad, I’ll head to the workshop.)
√ Enjoy a great seafood dinner.
√ End the day with a movie — probably an action movie.